Pragmatic Investment of Figurative and Non-Figurative Designations: The Case of the Egyptian Revolution in Arabic and English Contexts

Mahmoud Reda Ali Hassan 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1University of Minya, Egypt
Corresponding Author : Reda Ali Hassan Mahmoud, Associate professor, Department of English, University of Minya, Egypt. Email:

Copyright © 2018 Language Research Institute, Sejong University. Journal of Universal Language is an Open Access Journal. All articles are distributed online under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Mar 08, 2018; Revised: Jun 20, 2018; Accepted: Jul 10, 2018

Published Online: Sep 30, 2018


The problem why a speaker or a writer assigns a certain designation for the Egyptian revolution in 2011 is the primary focus of this paper. For this objective, this paper investigates underlying conceptual relations between the literal word ‘revolution’ and its different figurative and non-figurative designations. The syntagmatic relation between the literal tenor revolution and its designations or ‘vehicles’ can be interpreted in terms of user’s pragmatic investment of designations in discourse. The data in this study have been gathered from various written and spoken discourses and consist mainly of the most frequent designations of January 25 revolution. The analysis of data shows that pragmatic investment is determined by three main perlocutions, the user’s intentions of being unbiased, tactful, and biased. These intentions also determine the meanings of the designations according to five conceptual relations. These conceptual relations show the link between the word revolution and the user’s figurative or non-figurative designations such as spatial and temporal relations that determine the literal designations, tactful relations that determine the diplomatic use of figurative designations, and positive and negative relations that determine the figurative designations of pro- or anti-revolutionists. The study is based on an eclectic pragmatic approach to explore the literal/non-literal meanings of the designations and their pragmatic investment. This approach is mainly based on Searle’s contextual assumptions, Katz’s approach of literalness and Lakoff and Johnson’s conceptual theory. The study concludes that several pragmatic determiners of meaning govern the pragmatic investment of figurative and non-figurative designations, their underlying conceptual relations, and their degree of literalness.

Keywords: figurative language; metaphor; literal meaning; non-literal meaning; pragmatics; conceptual relation

1. Introduction

The Egyptian revolution in 2011 has been given many new designations both figuratively and non-figuratively. The majority of these designations are non-literal figurative expressions, mainly composed of metaphors, synecdoche and similes. Few other designations for the revolution are more explicit as they are named after its temporal and spatial relations. Both two types of literal and non-literal designations are invested pragmatically by their users1 according to their pre-existent concepts and underlying intentions to propagate their intentional ideas. The literal word revolution appears in different guises by most writers, news reporters, and social media activists. Some pro-revolutionists ascribe positive figurative expressions to the explicit word revolution to reflect their support. The same literal word revolution is designated negative expressions by anti-revolutionists to express their opposition. Some other reporters and diplomatic representatives have reflected on the revolutionary events impartially and tactfully. All the above conflicting voices exploit the literal word revolution by assigning it figurative and non-figurative designations to represent their own concepts and interpretations for the communal event of the revolution.

The primary objectives of this study are to describe the pragmatic investment of figurative and non-figurative designations for the Egyptian revolution and to clarify the underlying pragmatic relations between the literal tenor revolution and its different representations into vehicles, i.e., designations. The study attempts also to clarify the contentious relations between the tenor revolution and its designated figurative and non-figurative vehicles to define the different types of pragmatic investment in relation to the users’ conceptual interpretations of the social event of the revolution.

In this study, the metaphors and the other figurative expressions of the revolution are seen as polemical linguistic utterances that are primarily used by the speaker to communicate their strong arguments and thoughts of the revolution to express their opinions in favor of or against the revolution in the context of their discourse of defending, criticizing, or evaluating the revolution as a social and/or a political event, which is by no means cannot be achieved through the use of the literal word revolution only. For the above goals, the following pragmatic approach is used in this study to analyze figurative as well as other non-figurative designations of the revolution.

2. Data

The data in this study consist mainly of the most frequent designations of 2011 revolution in Egypt. Twenty-four designations have been gathered generally from various written and spoken discourse such as newspaper and magazine headlines and articles, written and televised news reports, TV comments, literary works, and social media responses. No certain criteria have been applied to collect the data except for the popularity and the frequency of the uses of the designations. They are organized and classified to be suitable for analysis in the following sections (4-8) according to their degree of literalness and the type of conceptual relation between the literal tenor revolution and its literal and non-literal vehicles or designations. The sources of the extracts that include the designations of the revolution are appended by the end of the paper to document their written and spoken sources in addition to the names of the writers and the speakers who use these designations in the same way they appear in the examples. Sources are alphabetically labelled in the appendix to facilitate referencing. However, the sources of several designations are not documented since they are mentioned frequently in several local and/or international media and they are indicated in the appendix as frequent sources.

3. Theoretical Orientation

Metaphors and other related figures of speech have been the center of attention of so many theories and approaches in literature, philosophy of language and thought, and linguistics since the first systematic treatment of metaphors in the Poetics of Aristotle (cf. historical background to contemporary theories in Steinhart & Kittay 1998: 567-581). Most of these theories and approaches handle metaphors and other figures of speech as instances of language use where the literal meaning of the word (i.e., tenor) is represented metaphorically as vehicle or image to convey the intended meaning (Richards 1936). Almost all theories of metaphor (e.g., referentialists, descriptivists, and conceptualist)2 differentiate between the literal meaning of the word and the idea or image conveyed by the metaphor (Steinhart & Kittay 1998). This dichotomy of tenor-vehicle is also called: topic-source (Kittay 1987), target-base (Lakoff & Johnson 1980), principle subject-subsidiary subject (Black 1962), direct/literal meaning-prediction or ‘non-literal meaning’ (Sadok 1993), what is saidwhat is meant or sentence meaning and speaker’s utterance meaning (Searle 1978, 1980, 1981, 1993), literal meaningspeaker meaning (Gibbs 1992, 2017), and the propositional form of the utterance and the propositional form of the thought (Carston 2002: 340). Such a basic dichotomy of literal/non-literal meanings is often expressed in various terminologies despite the differences among the theoretical backgrounds of the analyses of metaphorical meaning and the ways of comprehension and interpretation which emphasize the assumption of the common background in metaphor theory (Ritchie 2004). Steen (2007) displays the high degree of conventionalization among metaphor theories in his cognitive model which is based on grammatical evidences of metaphors grounded on usage. He also summarizes the typical function of metaphor, simile and related figures of speech which are shared by contemporary metaphor theorists in a three-dimensional model which is based on the common background among theories of metaphor that ‘metaphors in language invite people to understand one thing in terms of another’ (Steen 2008).

In this study, the pragmatic approach to the analysis of figurative and non-figurative designations of the Egyptian revolution is based on reconceptualizing—which is de facto reframing—the literal meaning of the invariant tenor revolution into variant non-literal meanings represented by different vehicles of figurative tropes (e.g., white, lotus, youth, and rage) or different concepts of the same vehicle by different speakers (e.g., different concepts of the same metaphor lotus or white color). For instance, the speaker utters the expression ‘the revolution of the lotus’ in order to convey the intended proposition that the revolution is pure as the lotus flower where the concept of the vehicle lotus is based on the contextual assumption of the speaker. A different concept of the vehicle lotus is given by another speaker that the Egyptian revolution is as original as the Egyptian flower (see examples 16-17).

The above view is based primarily on the pragmatic account of metaphor in Searle (1993), the semantic approach to literal meaning in Katz (1977: 1981), and the experimental theory of metaphor of Lakoff & Johnson (1980). In both semantic and pragmatic approaches to metaphor, the linguistic meaning of the tenor revolution is void of speaker’s meaning since it is empty and invariant of any particular concepts that indicate the identity of the speaker.3 The literal meaning of the word revolution is explicit and its interpretation is constrained by its semantic features which are not dependent on any particular context of speaker’s meaning and it is understood within the general propositional form of the utterance which is people are revolting. In terms of Katz’s semantic approach to literal meaning (1977: 1981), the tenor revolution is ‘context-free’, which is applied to tenor in the sense of its independence of any innovative usage (i.e., concept), where its linguistic meaning is reframed into vehicle(s) which is overbounded by speaker’s conceptual meaning(s). Katz’s innovative usage is replaced by utterance meaning in Searle pragmatic terminology (1978, 1980, 1981) which is adopted in this paper. In both semantic and pragmatic terminologies, the vehicle—which is represented by Katz’s innovative usage and Searle’s utterance meaning, is viewed as context-dependent. Based also on context, Lakoff & Johnson (1980) ground their view of metaphor on the systemic conceptual coherence of metaphor with live experiences. Park (2009) highlighted the role of metaphors in reflecting human experience, personalized use of language and specific culture.

The problematic relation between tenor and vehicle can be resolved by Searle’s view of literal meaning and contextual assumptions where ‘the notion of literal meaning of a sentence only has application relative to a set of contextual or background assumptions’ (1981: 117). The reconceptualization of the literal meaning of the tenor revolution into various vehicles or different concepts for the same vehicle is basically due to the different contextual assumptions of the speakers. As viewed by Carston (2002: 320-22), Searle’s contextual assumptions are the result of Lakoff and Johnson’s live experiences which constitute the thoughts, the mentality and the Knowledge of the speaker. These thoughts, mentality, and knowledge of the speaker have been already shaped prior to developing a particular concept on a particular topic (ibid.).

In this study, the user’s contextual assumptions that form his/her concepts are reflected by the type of syntagmatic relation which is established by the user between the literal tenor revolution and the figurative or non-figurative vehicle which compose the two elements of any designation for the revolution (e.g., the revolution of lotus, the revolution of youth). This tenor-vehicle syntagmatic relation is indicative of the conceptual relation between the speaker’s pre-existent thoughts, knowledge, and experiences and the literal or non-literal meaning of his/her chosen designations. Hartman (1982) equates metaphors ‘not to objects, but to relations or set of relations’. In this sense, metaphors are not similar to the objects they signify; they are similar to the identity of these objects which is represented by the speakers’ knowledge, thoughts and experiences. For instance, temporal and spatial relations4 are the basic experiences used by the speaker to determine the first designations given to the Egyptian revolution (e.g., the Egyptian revolution, the 25th of January revolution, and 2011 revolution), tactful relation represent the diplomatic designations of the revolution, negative relations represent the negative concepts of different trends of anti-revolutionists, and positive relations represent the optimistic pro-revolutionist designations. Such relations are contextual in nature since they are reflective of the speakers’ cognitive and epistemological experiences that govern their choices of designations. They are also intentional since they represent the speaker’s choices of figurative or non-figurative designations. Therefore, these conceptual relations are basic to the comprehension of the linguistic relation between literal/non-literal meanings of tenor-vehicle. In addition, they explain and provide the pragmatic bases of speakers’ choices (i.e., investment) of figurative or non-figurative vehicles to represent their concepts of the revolution non-literally or literally.

In the following section, the above five conceptual relations are discussed to clarify the processes of assigning a specific relation to the concepts of the speaker, the non-literal meanings of the tropes of the Egyptian revolution and their underlying concepts which offer the revolution its current designations.

4. Temporal and Spatial Relations

The most frequent designations for the Egyptian revolution in 2011 are primarily related to the temporal and spatial experiences of either the revolutionary people themselves or those who talk about or write on the revolution. The explicitness and specification of temporal and spatial designations can be interpreted in terms of the following views for the categories of time and place. For instance, Fuller defines numbers as “explicit experiences” (1975: 237) since they are often related to live events, situations, and places. The followers of Lakoff’s contemporary theory classify the category of time in the domain of literal abstract thought while the use of figurative language (e.g., metaphors and metonymy) is viewed as non-literal abstraction of thought (Steen 2013: 29). Revolutionary experiences are usually attributed to the contextual elements of time and place which are the two basic elements for identifying any social event such as the revolution, to relate it to the ‘point of time’ (Núñez, Mots & Teuscher 2006) and the specific location of the social event.5

According to the above concept of time and place, compare the following examples:

The examples in (1) are the most frequently used designations for the Egyptian revolution. All these designations are based on temporal relations, the month and the day of the revolution in 1a, the month in 1b, and the year in 1c, of which the most specific temporal relation is ‘January 25th revolution’ in example (1a). The other two designations in 1a, b are less specific since they lack the day in 1b, the day and month in 1c. The comparison of these three designations in example (1) reveals that ‘January 25th revolution’ is easier to be recognized since its temporal relation is more specific than the other two. The specific temporal relation of ‘January 25th revolution’ is reflected directly on its literal meaning and immediate perception of the utterance without the dependence on additional context. Less specific temporal relations such as ‘January revolution’ and ‘2011 revolution’ in (1b), (1c) do not lead to the same immediate recognition and their meanings are less literal in comparison to ‘January 25th revolution’. The designations in (1b), (1c) are more dependent on other contexts to be distinguished by the receiver from other revolutions in the same year of 2011 as in 1c or to designate the month of January to a specific year for the revolution as in (1b). Consequently, specific vs unspecific temporal relations determine the degree of literalness of the meanings of the above designations and hence the receivers’ dependence on additional contextual information to decode these meanings.

These former criteria of specification and immediateness of cognition can be applied to the spatial relations in example (2). The ‘Egyptian revolution’ in (2a) is less specific than the ‘Egyptian revolution in 2011’ in (2b). The addition of the temporal element of the year ‘2011’ results in the receiver’s immediate recognition.

The meaning of the proximal deictic marker ‘first’ in example (3) cannot be fully understood without relying on additional contextual information. The uses of the deictic markers ‘first’ and ‘second’ to refer to the order of revolutions in Egypt are common in local Egyptian contexts. They describe the order of the two revolutions to refer to ‘25th of January in 2011’ or ‘30 June in 2014’. The receiver finds it difficult to specify the deictic center of the marker ‘first’ because of its reference is related to utterance meaning. The intention of the user of the utterance is ambiguous whether the deictic marker ‘first’ refers to either 2011 revolution or 1952 revolution, 2011 revolution or June 2014 revolution. Further interpretation is required from the user to decode his/her intended meaning particularly when the receiver does not admit that 1952 or 2014 are revolutions in the explicit sense of the word.

The comparison of the former temporal and spatial relations in the above examples leads to the postulation that specific temporal relations (e.g., January 25th revolution) and the spatio-temporal relations (e.g., 2011 Egyptian revolution) are provisional of literal meaning since they facilitate comprehension without the reliance on further interpretative contexts either if these designations appear in written or spoken discourse during the days of the revolution, right after the revolution, or even several years after the revolution.

5. Tactful Relations

Tactful relations refer to the ways the user relates his/her choices of figurative expressions to represent the intended concept he/she wants to communicate about the Egyptian revolution. These figurative expressions are selected carefully by some diplomatic spokesmen, political parties, and decision-making organizations to designate the names of the revolution either literally or non-literally. These unbiased diplomatic and political entities are not likely to upset pro- or anti-revolutionists so that their choices of figurative language evade contentious issues to maintain their relations with both competing parties. The following four quotations illustrate the assumption of tactful relation:

The above quotations are examples of tactful responses during the first few days of the revolution. In example (4), Hillary Clinton uses the metaphorical expression ‘historical moment’ to focus on just the event of the revolution as yet an enigmatic happening that has not yield decisive outcomes. The same concept is introduced in example (5) where Obama refers to the revolution as a rare ‘moment’ in history. Both metaphorical expressions are viewed as tactful responses to a pending event.

In examples (6) and (7) above, two similes are used by the German and Ukrainian ambassadors in Cairo to state that the Egyptian revolution looks like the revolutions in their homelands, ‘the revolution of unifying Germany 20 years ago’ and the Ukrainian ‘orange revolution’. These two statements are tactful messages that signify that the Egyptian revolution is as peaceful and successful as the two other revolutions in Germany and Ukrania.

In (7), two metaphorical figures of speech are used: the similes of equating the Egyptian ‘white revolution’ to the Ukrainian ‘orange revolution’ with two embedded metaphors of white and orange colors. The use of these dual figures of speech emphasizes the concept of equation between the two revolutions and provides the image of the white color with its related concept of peace as a counterpart of the orange color, the symbolic metaphor of the peaceful Ukrainian sit-in protests. Although orange is associated to the color of the flag of the Ukrainian leader6, the color orange as metaphor for the Ukrainian revolution is used to indicate the concept of peace which is related to the peaceful protests. The white color, in return, has been known for all humans to be associated constantly to clouds, angels, purity of heart, and peace. Yet, the parallels resulted by the simile are strengthened by the parallels of the colors ‘white’ and ‘orange’ which signify the non-literal concept of peace.

The following are two common designations in the international media during the days of the revolution

The above two literal designations for the Egyptian revolution appear in almost all tactful comments during the early days of the revolution. They are literal descriptions of peaceful demonstrators who used to clean Tahrir square by the end of the day. The use of literal descriptions is a tactful method for the impartial speaker to keep himself off describing the political situation. The literal designations in (8) explicate the non-literal use of the concepts of peace in the metaphor of color in (7).

In the following examples temporal and spatial relations function as underlying tactful relations:

In (9) above, the central place for the revolution ‘Tahrir square’ is used as a synecdoche7, which is an integral part of the revolution that refers to all revolutionary events in the square that happened in ‘18 days’, the duration that represents the nucleus event of the revolution. In this sense, the temporal designation ‘18 days’ in (10) is also a synecdoche since it is used as part to refer to whole. The spatial and temporal uses of the above two metonymic expressions help reduce the degree of non-literalness caused by the part-whole references.

The intentional uses of spatial and temporal designations for the revolution underlie the tactful relation that motivates the speaker to equivocate about political or decisive opinions.

6. Negative Relations

Some anti-revolutionists tend to strip away the positive property of the revolution which is represented by the sublime persistence to change for a better life. These anti-revolutionists base their choices of the designations of the revolution on their pre-existent negative concepts. The relation between the chosen designation by the user and the literal term of the revolution is as negative as the pre-existent concept of the user. The next excerpts from the Arabic media exemplify the above conceptual negative relation.

In the above examples, the negative relation between the term ‘revolution’ and the metaphors of ‘play’ in (11) and ‘Zionist conspiracy’ in (12) represent the negative intentions of the speaker to distort the revolution.

In (11), the synecdoche Tahrir square which is the integral part of the revolution and its emblem is metaphorically put as a play that has been designated the name of ‘January 25 revolution’. The Arabic word ‘masraħiyyah’, the equivalent translation for ‘play’, derives its formal meaning from the noun (masraħ ‘theatre’) which can be understood as Tahrir square, the stage of events. The Arabic sense of the word ‘masraħiyyah’ often signifies the negative meaning of a factitious staged show which is not genuine. This underlying negative concept is reflected by the user on his choices of the non-literal metaphor ‘play’ and the synecdoche ‘Tahrir square’ to result in distorting the positive meaning of the literal word ‘revolution’.

The metaphorical expression ‘Zionist conspiracy’ in example (12) is used to yield the same negative outcome, i.e., distorting the revolution. The dual negative effect is implicated by the two negative words ‘Zionist’ and ‘conspiracy’, the components of metaphorical expressions, to reveal the speaker’s disproof of the revolution. The rest of the utterance ‘against a sincere leader’ disclose the pre-existent intentions of the speaker and his underlying anti-revolutionary concept. In (13), the same designation ‘conspiracy’ is used with the adjective ‘international’ in an explicit way and the intention of the utterance is also explicated in the following phrase ‘organized and plotted to overthrow … to destroy Egypt’.

Negative relations are represented by stripping away the positive properties of the revolution via the use of alternative literal designations in the following two examples:

The literal designation ‘crisis, protests, and marches’ in (14) and ‘intifada’ in (15) are negative alternatives for the literal positive word ‘revolution’. These alternative literal designations are meant to divest the revolution of its constructive properties (e.g., the change for human dignity, fighting poverty, radical change of political system) by replacing them with alternative words (e.g., crisis, protests, marches, and intifada). The Arabic word intifada ‘uprising’ is used in many Arabic contexts as alternative for the Egyptian revolution to recall to reader’s mind the Palestinian intifada that come to nothing even though it lasts for a long time. These literal alternatives, on the one hand, reveal the beliefs of the speakers that the revolution is just a temporal crisis, protests, uprising or marches that will soon come to end. On the other hand, the literal meanings of these alternative designations hide the underlying intentions of anti-revolutionists for their propaganda of the idea that this event is not a revolution. For both reasons, the heterogeneous relation between the literal alternative designations ‘crisis, protests, marches, and intifada’ and the constant literal word ‘revolution’ revels the underlying intentions of the negative concepts of the speakers.

7. Positive Relations

Opposite to negative conceptual relations, positive conceptual relations are established by pro-revolutionists between the literal word revolution and its designated metaphors. The following examples are composed of some translated extracts from Egyptian newspaper articles. They illustrate the uses of metaphors as non-literal designations for the Egyptian revolution

Two metaphorical designations for the revolution are used in the above example (16), the ‘beautiful revolution’ and the ‘revolution of the lotus’. In ‘beautiful revolution’ the writer modifies the revolution with the adjective beautiful to recall to mind the image of beautiful woman as an object of desire according to the concepts of pro-revolutionists. The second metaphorical designation the ‘lotus’ is rephrased literally by the writer in the rest of the example to reveal his own underlying concept of the designation ‘lotus’, the purity of the flower that resembles the purity of the revolutionary youth. A different underlying concept for the metaphor ‘lotus’ is provided by another writer in the next example.

The concept of the ‘lotus’ in (17) recalls the originality of the ancient Egyptian flower which is a quality the writer wants to attribute to the revolution. The contrast between the two underlying concepts for the same metaphorical designation ‘lotus’ in (16) and (17) emphasizes the hypothesis that any pragmatic choice of designation is based on the different pre-existent concepts of the writers which determine their different intended meanings.

The designation ‘the revolution of the youth’ is used in example (17) accompanied by the possessive pronoun ‘our’ to signify the affiliation or support of the writer to those youths. This explicit designation has been named this time after the youth who ignited the spark of the revolution. It is remarkable that the use of the explicit designation of youth revolution excludes older people and targets only the category of youth. The assignment of youth may contradict the fact that numerous old people have appeared in the square. According to this remark, the use of the designation ‘youth’ may be motivated by the underlying concepts of courage, initiation, and hope, the positive semantic features for the word youth.

In the preceding example, the literal designation of ‘Jnuary 25 revolution’ is renamed figuratively as ‘rage revolution’. The writer reveals his intention earlier in the same extract by relating it to ‘Tahrir square’, the emblem of freedom, that has also witnessed the events of the revolution of bread in January 1977 which is always known as ‘rage revolution’. Tahrir square is used by the writer as a parallel link between bread revolution in 1977 and the January 25 revolution to evoke the image of ‘rage’ and designate it to January 25. The conceptual image of ‘rage’ is pragmatically invested by the writer to designate it to January 25 revolution despite the fact that lack of bread is not among the primary causes of rage in this revolution. In this respect of pragmatic investment, it is also significant to compare the different conceptual uses of Tahrir saquare which is seen by two different writers as an ‘emblem of freedom’ in example (18) and as a ‘play’ in example (11) to associate the first use to a positive concept and the later use to a negative one.

A positive relation is established between the ‘revolution’ and the metaphorical expression the ‘volcano of rage’ in the following example

The above positive relation divulges the hidden positive property the writer sees in the revolutionary event, viz the irresistible revolutionary power of change. The positive property for the revolution in (19) can be compared to the negative properties which are discussed in (14) and (15) to reveal the underlying intentions of the two different conceptual relations between the literal tenor ‘revolution’ and its positive and negative vehicles or designations.

In example (7), ‘white revolution’ is used in a comparative context with ‘orange revolution’ to represent the underlying tactful relation for the attribution of the white color to the Egyptian revolution. The same designation is reused by a different speaker in example (20) to imply the different concept of peaceful revolution which is restated literally in the rest of the example. The white color is ascribed to the revolution to signpost its peacefulness where the peaceful uses of technology and social media in this revolution replace the uses of dangerous weapons. Yet, the metaphor of white color is used in example (20) to communicate the positive concept of peaceful revolution whereas it is used in example (7) to link between the Ukrainian orange revolution and the Egyptian white revolution in a tactful way.

8. Perlocutions of Figurative/Non-Figurative Designations

The literal and non-literal meanings of figurative and non-figurative designations are basically determined by the former five conceptual relations which are invested pragmatically by their users to fulfil their perlocutionary effects. It is difficult to understand the different meanings of the designations of the revolution and their underlying relations without considering their perlocutions. These perlocutions represent the users’ underlying intentions with their different concepts to invest the designations of the revolution to achieve their different goals. For instance, the designations of the revolution reflect the users’ perlocutions (i.e., mental planning) to describe the revolutionary event in an unbiased way, hedge against declaring decisive opinions, or make public their positive or negative attitudes and intentions to influence public opinion. According to the above perlocutions, the meanings of the designations can be reduced to three determiners: live experiences, intentional circumspection, and pre-concepts. These three pragmatic determiners of literal and non-literal meanings of the designations are reductions for the five conceptual relations which motivate their pragmatic investment of the word revolution. They can be interpreted as follows:

1. The users relate the revolution to their live experiences by assigning it temporal and spatial designations. Assignment of temporal and spatial designations is motivated by the user’s desire to describe the revolution in an unbiased way which is due to the literal meanings of temporal and spatial designations which achieve maximum intelligibility among users since live experiences form the optimal shared knowledge among people which is known as Mutual Contextual Beliefs (MCB) in (Bach & Harnish 1979: 5-7). This is often the case of unbiased journalists and reporters who rip their description of the revolution off any biased pre-concepts and beliefs.

2. The users relate the revolution according to their careful requirements to hide their intentions to hedge against declaring any decisive opinion about the revolution for diplomatic reasons. The diplomatic users often choose figurative images to describe the virtuous sides of the revolution to hide their real intentions about the revolution particularly during its first days. They use virtuous figurative images as a hedging strategy to avoid giving literal comments or opinions that make known their forthcoming reactions towards the revolutionary event. In this case, the diplomatic uses of the designations are kept within the limitations of conversational maxims of Grice’s quality and quantity (Grice 1989).

3. The users relate the revolution to their pre-concepts which reflect their positive or negative opinions of the revolutionary event. The users’ pre-concepts (e.g., knowledge, attitudes, pre-conceived thoughts) determine their positive or negative choices of figurative designations that express their support or opposition. The different uses of innovative figurative images are meant by pro- or anti-activists to produce maximum effect on the readers/listeners to adopt their particular political, social, and/or critical views.

The above three pragmatic determiners of meanings explain the modes of perlocutions of figurative and non-figurative designations. These three pragmatic determiners derive their explanatory force from the types of the user’s established conceptual relations between the tenor revolution and its ascribed figurative or non-figurative designations (e.g., temporal and spatial relations, tactful relations, positive or negative relations) and the perlocutions of these designations (e.g., the intentions of being unbiased, biased or tactful). By non-figurative designations (e.g., the 25th of January revolution/the Egyptian revolution of 2011), the user invests his/her shared knowledge of live experiences which are represented by temporal and spatial relations to fulfil the perlocution of the utterance by communicating his/her intentions of describing the revolution in an unbiased literal way. For figurative designations, the user invests his pre-concepts which are represented by either positive or negative relations to fulfil the perlocutions of propagating his/her positive or negative views of the revolution by using innovative ways. Figurative designations can also be used as a tactful strategy to hedge against declaring a decisive response. In such a case, this tactful strategy fulfils the perlocution of dealing with the revolution in a cautious way to maintain diplomatic relations with all competitive parties.

It can be deduced, according to the above analysis, that the principle of pragmatic investment motivates the user to assign the appropriate figurative or non-figurative designation to the revolution to express his/her opinion and attitude of the revolution. Pragmatic investment also motivates the users of innovative figurative images of the revolution to explain the reasons of using such figurative designations such as the users’ different explanations for the image of ‘lotus’ in example (16,17) and the different uses of the image of the ‘white’ color in examples (7, 20).

The tendency of the users to demarcate the non-literal meanings of figurative images emphasizes that the main goal of the users is to communicate the intended meanings of figurative designations to achieve the intended perlocutionary acts of the designations via innovative figurative ways that suit the users’ attitudes towards the new speech event of the revolution. To the opposite, the need to demarcate the literal meanings of non-figurative designations diminishes according to the degree of intelligibility and shared knowledge of temporal and spatial designations.

9. Conclusion

In this paper, the analysis of figurative and non-figurative designations of 2011 Egyptian revolution has revealed that the literal and non-literal meanings of these designations are determined by the users’ various modes of pragmatic investment. According to these modes of pragmatic investment, the analysis has also shown that the designations of the revolution are rendered to communicate the users’ intentional targets via establishing several conceptual relations (e.g., spatial/temporal, tactful, and positive/negative relations) which are reduced into three underlying pragmatic determiners: live experiences, intentional circumspection, and pre-concepts. Such underlying pragmatic determiners are set to explain the modes of pragmatic investment, the perlocutions of unbiased, tactful, and biased intentions when assigning particular figurative or non-figurative designations, and the degree of literalness and non-literalness for these designations.


1. The term user refers to the speaker or the writer of utterances or sentences in spoken and written discourses and it is sometimes used interchangeably in this paper with speaker or writer.

2. For a full account of the theories of metaphor see Leezenberg (2001), Giora (2008), and Ritchie (2004, 2013).

3. See the discussion on context independence/dependence of literal/non-literal meanings in Kovala (2001).

4. See Spatio-temporal settings as part of the elements of context in (Fillmore 1975, Goodwin 1999).

5. Núñez et al. (2006) establishes the experimental link between psychological cognition of time and time reference.

6. The orange revolution took its name from the color worn by Yushchenko’s supporters which is also the same color for the flag of his political campaign.

7. The use of synecdoche motivates the relations of particularization and generalization between the part and the whole as indicated in the analysis of the examples in (Frank 2015: 76).



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The following table includes the sources of the examples arranged in the same order as they appear in the paper. The sources of the designations which are mentioned frequently in several local and/or international media are referred to as frequent sources. Alphabetical labels are added to facilitate referencing.

Examples Source
A 1, 2 Frequent in most local and international sources.
B 3 Frequent in local sources after 30 June revolution of 2013.
C 4 Media4 Movement. (2011, Jan 29). Sect. Hillary Clinton on Egypt. Retrieved from <>.
D 5 VeracityStew. (2011, Feb 11). President Obama speech on Egypt/Mubarak resignation 2-11-11. Retrieved from <>.
E 6 Nazmy, Mohamed. (2011, July 12). Egypt’s revolution in the eyes of world leaders. Retrieved from <>.
F 7 Nazmy, Mohamed. (2011, July 12). Egypt’s revolution in the eyes of world leaders. Retrieved from <>.
G 8, 9, 10 Common sources in most local and international sources.
H 11 Barakat, Amr Aly. (2011, March 29) Midaan altahriir masraħyyah ismaha xamsah weʔiʃrin yanayer. Retrieved from <>.
I 12 Xalfaan, Dahi. (2012, Jan. 10). News report on the Egyptian Revolution. Retreived from <>.
J 13 Osama, mr. (2011, Feb 2). Blog post of mr.osama. Retrieved from <>.
K 14 Lana, AlnaSr. (2012, March 11) Blog post of alnaSr lana. Retrieved from < /threads/56705/>.
L 15 Alshamy, Khalid. (2011, Jan. 29). zilzaal siyaasi waʤtimaaʕ fi masr. Retrieved from <>.
M 16 Alsisi, Wasim. (2011, Feb. 19). θawrat allutis fi masr wallʕaalam. Retrieved from <>.
N 17 Ibrahim, Sadeldin. (2012, Jan 21). θawrat allutis almisriyyah weʔalf zahrah tatafataħ. Retrieved from <>.
O 18 θawrat xamsah weʔiʃrin yanayer, θawrat midaan altaħriir (2011, Feb 12). Retrieved from <>.
P 19 Rageh, Mohammed Salah. (2011, Feb 25). Blog post of Mohammed Salah Rageh. Retrieved from <>.
Q 20 Alroumy, Magda. (2011, May 27). Magda Alroumy on the Egyptian revolution. Retrieved from <>.
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